Kiss Me, I'm type O


No doubt you've seen those ubiquitous Ancestry.com ads in which someone is shocked--shocked I tell you--to discover that they aren't really Italian. Instead they're 34 percent Eastern European and 26 percent British and 10 percent Scandinavian...  What's curious and a little unnerving about these ads is how the people in them appear to believe that some fundamental secret of their identity has been revealed.  Aha! they say.  It all makes sense.  I get me.

For whatever reason we just can't escape thinking that there is some special sauce that separates one group of human beings from another.  People who know full-damn-well that there are only four universal blood types persist in the belief that Irish blood is somehow distinct from Japanese blood.  Today, this same erroneous assumption has been updated and given a spiffy pie-charted gloss thanks to commercially available DNA kits.

In many ways the new fascination with our DNA is simply the latest manifestation of our default tribal notions of identity.  In Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, the philosopher David Livingstone-Smith illustrates this by posing a thought experiment.  He asks us to imagine a Chinese baby taken at birth to Sweden.  The child is given cosmetic surgery and raised by Swedish parents. As an adult this person is indistinguishable from the natives of Sweden.  Our hypothetical person is completely unaware that he or she has or ever has had any association with people living in China.  Livingstone-Smith then asks if this child still possesses in any meaningful sense a Chinese identity.

Nearly everyone answers yes.  

Ask them why and they can't quite put their finger on it, but they just know on some level this person remains Chinese (and no doubt it's only a matter of time before he hears the mystic voices of his ancestors sing out to him over dim sum in a Stockholm noodle shop).   By extension, of course, that unnameable something that makes him Chinese also makes him not SwedishOr put another way, the kid has an impurity that sets him apart from a true Swede.  Well, you can see where all this leads.

Look, if DNA tells us anything it's that there's really not much difference between anybody (and I suppose that our ancestors really did enjoy romping about the gene pool).  Frankly, knowing your DNA results is no different than knowing your blood-type. It's interesting for about 30 seconds, but it doesn't tell you anything about who you are.   That, however, is not a great sales pitch for hawking DNA kits (or for that matter White Nationalism). 

Comments

Anti-Dada said…
Oh, there are differences! Maybe not in terms of percentage of DNA, but that little percentage ... oh, boy! I'm glad I don't have the Trump gene.

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